Project Characteristics

In the earlier post, we reviewed about Project definition and its characteristics. Let us review the Project characteristics little elaborately. So, there are 3 characters:

  1. Temporary
  2. Unique Products, Services, or Results
  3. Progressive Elaboration


“Projects are temporary in nature.”

So, what does the word ‘temporary’ mean? We tend to think that ‘temporary’ means it is of short duration. But it is not so. Projects can be scheduled for years. Though it is for years it should have a definite beginning and ending.

Operational work is an ongoing effort which is executed to sustain the business. But projects are not ongoing efforts. A project is considered to end when the project’s objectives have been achieved or the project is discarded / terminated.

We need to note a point here. Only Projects are temporary in characteristic & not the Project’s outcomes. Building Eiffel Tower was a project. The structure was built between 1887 and 1889. Project Eiffel Tower ended on 1889. But still the outcome of the project exists as a monument.

To summarize the Temporary characteristic of Projects:

  • *Definite beginning and a definite end
  • *Project is considered to end
    • **When the project’s objectives have been achieved
    • **It becomes clear that the project objectives will not or cannot be met
    • **The need for the project no longer exists and the project is terminated
  • *Temporary does not mean short duration
  • *Projects are not ongoing efforts
  • *Temporary does not generally apply to the product, service or result created by the project
  • *Projects also may often have intended and unintended social, economic and environmental impacts that far outlast the projects themselves

Unique Products, Services, or Results

“Every Project is undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”

To explain further the above statement:

  • Projects can create:
    • *A product or artifact that is produced, is quantifiable, and can be either an end item in itself or a component item
    • *A capability to perform a service, such as business functions supporting production or distribution
    • *A result, such as outcomes or documents. For example, a research project develops knowledge that can be used to determine whether or not a trend is present or a new process will benefit society.

    There can be existence of repetitive elements with in the project but it does not change the fundamental uniqueness of the project outcome.

    For example, hundreds of house buildings have been developed by a constructor called DLF Limited, but each individual building is unique-different owner, different design, different structure, different location, different sub-contractors, and so on.

    So, each building to be considered as a Project and each Project produces unique outcome.
    Progressive Elaboration

    • *Progressive elaboration means developing in steps, and continuing by increments
    • *Accompanies the concepts of temporary and unique
    • *For example, the project scope will be broadly described early in the project and made more explicit and detailed as the project team develops a better and more complete understanding of the objectives and deliverables
    • *Progressive elaboration should not be confused with scope creep. Progressive elaboration is giving more details for the already defined scope and not increasing the project scope.
    • Classic Example:

    The product of an economic development project may initially be defined as: “Improve the quality of life of the lowest income residents of community X.”

    As the project proceeds, the products may be described more specifically as, for example: “Provide access to food and water to 500 low-income residents in community X.”

    The next round of progressive elaboration might focus exclusively on increasing agriculture production and marketing, with provision of water deemed to be a secondary priority to be initiated once the agricultural component is well under way.

    (Reference: pg.5 – 6 – PMBOK® Guide 3rd Edition)

    What is a Project?

    Take the following scenario:

    “For the past few weeks, I am carrying out a research on impact of environmental pollution in global warming. I planned to finish it by Feb 28th, 2008. I publish the result of my study in a local daily newspaper by March 10th, 2008.”

    “So, tell me what am I executing right now?”

    Your reply would be – “You are doing a research project”

    “Yes, I am executing a research project.”

    “Ok. you used a word ‘Project’ in earlier sentence. How can I call what I am doing right now a project?”

    Definition of a Project:

    A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. [1]

    If the activity being performed has all the above characteristics then it needs to be called as a Project.

    Keywords in the definition are: temporary & unique outcome.

    * Temporary – It has definite beginning and end time. (10th Feb 2008 till 28th Feb 2008)

    * Unique Product, Services or Results – It has results out of my research study – “A Report on Impact of Environmental Pollution in Global Warming”. And the study is unique in a manner that it conducted by considering with different organic & inorganic pollutants specific to particular area.

    One other important inherent characteristic of Projects is progressive elaboration. Progressive elaboration means developing in steps, and continuing by increments.

    * Progressive elaboration – The general methods explained in conducting the research was first briefed and then elaborated during the project phases with the inputs of different experts across the country.

    [1]. PMBOK® Guide – 3rd edition – Page #. 5